A Lesson on Failure

After leaving our last class I was curious as to what failure in the eyes of a 7th grader would look like.  Conveniently, we are just kicking off our process of setting SMART goals in our middle school, and the first portion of this process is student self reflection.   I wanted my students to reflect not only on what they wanted to accomplish but also how they perceived failure.  I started out by simply asking what it meant to be successful.  Considering I teach 7th graders,  being successful meant making a ton of money and being famous.  Realizing that this was not necessarily the direction I wanted them to take, I rephrased and asked them if they could share a time that they were successful.   Stories began to spill out about making sports teams, getting good grades, starting a school club and so on.  It was wonderful to hear about their successes but I had to remind myself that success was not the purpose of this lesson.  So I dropped the F-bomb.  “Did you ever fail before you achieved success?”

Crickets.

Then, one timid hand went up; starting a confessional wave describing the pitfalls that accompany reaching goals.   I asked them what encouraged them to keep going and what prevented them from giving in.  Almost all of them shared that someone was there supporting them along the way, helping them to work out the kinks and push through.  It become evident that they were realizing how important failure was on their individual quest to achieve their goal.  The last thing we did as a class was redefine failure.  To them failure is an important part of the process in reaching a goal.  It is the point that makes them work harder, learn, and get help.  They all agreed, that success was much sweeter with a little failure sprinkled on top.

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